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The predominant metaphor we use to describe software creation is an engineering or construction one -- writing a program is like building a bridge, or a house. I've long been unsatisfied by this view; to me, writing software has always seemed more similar to writing prose, or at least carving bespoke items out of wood. Chris McMahon, Marlena Compton, Zeger Van Hese, and many other folks have written up their own takes on what software creation has in common with art.

My latest article on StickyMinds wraps up the Philosophy & Testing series by exhorting individual testers to look to the arts, humanities, and social sciences and see what insights they can draw into their testing.

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I think it's a common misconception that only applications that are targetted at an international audience have to deal with the topics we usually think of as internationalization, such as non-ASCII character sets, handling time zones and international addresses correctly, and so forth.

But in this day and age, you can get most of these "international" data variations even from dealing with a strictly domestic audience. Most common word processors emit non-ASCII characters like directional quotes, and users are increasingly aware of how to make use of characters with dïacritics, symbols like ©, and so forth. Besides, if you're working on a web app that'll be going on the public internet, trust me when I say that you'll get all kinds of different data thrown at it from all over the world, whether you like it or not.

StickyMinds just posted my take on the subject as this week's weekly column: Bare Minimum i18n.

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D'oh! I let this one languish for a while. My Stickyminds column on Aesthetics, the last branch of philosophy I'm exploring in the Philosophy & Testing series, went live back on 31 Oct.

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My latest StickyMinds column: Logic and Software testing.

As technologists, I think we often fail to consider that most everything we do has two sides to it: a technical side, and a human side. Similarly, the digital logic that underpins how computers work is first to mind when we mention logic in the context of software testing, but there's another equally important aspect of logic in software testing: using informal or persuasive logic to reason with other people. Dealing with zeroes and ones is part of our jobs, but so is arguing that a certain bug needs to be fixed, that one feature should have priority over over another, or that a proposed solution should be rejected as unsuitable.

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I'm happy to note that my latest article has gone up on StickyMinds. This one's on Epistemology & Software Testing.

This one was actually a bit arduous to write, because it went off in a very different direction from where I initially thought it'd go. The pieces that do that can end up being the most illuminating ones, though.

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Whoops! Forgot to make an entry here when this went up. I had the Stickyminds Weekly Column back on 30 May 2011 with the article Testing Metaphysics.

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I've got the front page of StickyMinds.com this week with a column on Ethics & Software Testing.

I would have loved to delve more into the foundations of ethical thinking and some of the ideas people have articulated about how to best "solve" ethical dilemmas, but the length and focus of the piece doesn't really permit. Maybe that's something for the future. =)

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I neglected to post this at the time because I was enroute to Drupalcon Chicago 2011 when it went live, but -- I had the StickyMinds.com weekly column for 7 March 2011: Philosophy and Software Testing.

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I love this song by the Afro-Cuban All Stars, and not just because it has a great beat. (lyrics)

Yo le puse el corazón // también le puse la mente //
y el producto resulto // bien distinto y diferente.
I put my heart into it // and also my mind;
the product that results // is very unique and different.

A lot of the value I bring to a test team (or indeed any team) comes by virtue of being different -- of bringing a different life experience, different perspective, and different set of skills to the table.

To take one example, I interact with the Internet through a medium that's very different from that of most people. I use Linux and other open-source software well-nigh exclusively, often via a textual interface. I read mail with mutt, chat with people using irssi, and tweet using ttytter. For many years I browsed the web using lynx simply because my outdated pittance of a computer couldn't handle anything more demanding. Even now, my default view of the web doesn't include javascript, java applets, or flash. A lot of things fall apart when the assumptions that they're developed under crumble.

To take another angle, I've worked as a programmer, sysadmin, and a tester in recent memory. While I'd likely lose out on a kernel hacker job to someone who's spent the last 20 years coding in C, small shops (like the one I'm in now) really appreciate having someone around who can kick servers together, debug CMS modules, and come up with testing tools for the open source project we're hacking on. So it goes with other aspects of my background -- knowing i18n and a few snippets of Japanese because of my time as an exchange student; being sensitive to the ethical ramifications of a piece of software on account of my background in Philosophy; thinking things out in terms of concepts, theories, principles, and strategies, because that's simply how my mind works.

It may be presumptuous to think that you can be the best programmer in the entire world, or the best tester, or what have you. But you can be the best you in the world; the best at at offering the unique set of skills and perspectives that only you have. Though I endeavour to give my best, I'm not so presumptuous to think that I am the best. But I hope you will always find my work distinto; diferente.

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Do we have enough hackathons in the testing world?

So over on the open source dev side of the planet, we have these things called hackathons. The archetype for this kind of event goes something like this:

  • Declare a rough topic: "Apache bug bash", "Perl-related projects".
  • Procure an inexpensive conference room.
  • Add a couple dozen highly motivated open source hackers.
  • Throw in snacks, wifi, collab tools, and a lot of caffeine.
  • Shake vigorously and observe the reaction.

Sometimes these are done before or after another major conference; sometimes they're scheduled on their own. They are more or less round-the-clock affairs where a heck of a lot gets done:

  • tens or hundreds of bugs get closed;
  • new releases of major software projects get done;
  • sweeping new features are designed or implemented;
  • entirely new projects get cooked up and launched.

As much as I love remote collaboration, people in the same physical space have much higher communication bandwidth; you can communicate with more nuance and turn around replies much more quickly. They're also much less subject to the interruptions of daily life: fire drill because a server crashed, the garden needs to be fed, the cat needs watering, etc. The cross-talk that does happen tends to be germane to what's happening in the moment. This all means that:

  • many coordinated tasks get done in a relatively short time;
  • discussions can move forward a great distance in a relatively short time; and
  • a lot of cross-pollination happens -- people riff off of each other's ideas and come up with amazing new things.

Despite how productive hackathons can be, they cost very little. All that needs to be paid for is travel, space, and accomodation, and the hackathon location can be selected so as to keep these low.

I think that the writing-about-testing conference engendered many of the points listed above. I'd like to see these kind of affairs happen more often.

The testing world has a number of great 'pro' conferences: StarEast/West, STPCon, CAST, and so forth. But do we have enough hackathons?

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Rick Scott

Who?

Canadian philosopher-geek who's profoundly interested in how we can collaborate to make technology work better for everyone. He's an incorrigible idealist, an open source contributor, and a staunch believer in testing, universal access, and the hacker ethic.

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